Meantime the women drew out and set up the divan, more indispensable to him than the beard down-flowing over his breast, white as Aaron’s. They put a frame together in shape of three sides of a square, the opening to the door, and covered it with cushions and base curtains, and the cushions with a changeable spread striped brown and yellow; at the corners they placed pillows and bolsters sacked in cloth blue and crimson; then around the divan they laid a margin of carpet, and the inner space they carpeted as well; and when the carpet was carried from the opening of the divan to the door of the tent, their work was done; whereupon they again waited until the master said it was good. Nothing remained then but to bring and fill the jars with water, and hang the skin bottles of arrack ready for the hand- to-morrow the leben. Nor might an Arab see why Ilderim should not be both happy and generous- in his tent by the lake of sweet waters, under the palms of the Orchard of Palms.
Such was the tent at the door of which we left Ben-Hur.
Servants were already waiting the master’s direction. One of them took off his sandals; another unlatched Ben-Hur’s Roman shoes; then the two exchanged their dusty outer garments for fresh ones of white linen.
“Enter- in God’s name, enter, and take thy rest,” said the host, heartily, in the dialect of the Market-place of Jerusalem; forthwith he led the way to the divan.
“I will sit here,” he said next, pointing; “and there the stranger.”
A woman- in the old time she would have been called a handmaid- answered, and dexterously piled the pillows and bolsters as rests for the back; after which they sat upon the side of the divan, while water was brought fresh from the lake, and their feet bathed and dried with napkins.
“We have a saying in the desert,” Ilderim began, gathering his beard, and combing it with his slender fingers, “that a good appetite is the promise of a long life. Hast thou such?”
“By that rule, good sheik, I will live a hundred years. I am a hungry wolf at thy door,” Ben-Hur replied.
“Well, thou shalt not be sent away like a wolf. I will give thee the best of the flocks.”
Ilderim clapped his hands.
“Seek the stranger in the guest-tent, and say I, Ilderim, send him a prayer that his peace may be as incessant as the flowing of waters.”
The man in waiting bowed.
“Say, also,” Ilderim continued, “that I have returned with another for breaking of bread; and, if Balthasar the wise careth to share the loaf, three may partake of it, and the portion of the birds be none the less.”
The second servant went away.
“Let us take our rest now.”
Thereupon Ilderim settled himself upon the divan, as at this day merchants sit on their rugs in the bazaars of Damascus; and when fairly at rest, he stopped combing his beard, and said, gravely, “That thou art my guest, and hast drunk my leben, and art about to taste my salt, ought not to forbid a question: Who art thou?”